On another site where I write, a few readers who have been following along and reading my Horrordailies posts have said that they can’t or won’t watch horror movies. I get it. Everyone has different tastes and experiences.
Me, I love the genre.
It started when I was a kid of about 8 or 9 years old. Chiller Theatre, a horror series on TV, was very popular at the time, and my family would gather around and watch. We also made a point to watch any horror movies that came on as “Movie of the Week,” and sometimes my parents would let me stay up past my bedtime if it wasn’t a school night just to watch. I suspect that if any of us had nightmares from it, they wouldn’t have let us watch more than once, but none of us ever did.
Some may say that letting a child watch horror movies is a bad thing. I think in my case, my parents did me a great service by letting me see it. They explained that it was only make-believe and that it was just actors wearing masks and make-up. I remember my father saying, “Someone made it all up, like how you make things up when you write your stories.”
That right there opened up a whole new world to me, for that was when I realized that when I wrote stories, they didn’t have to be about real creatures and things, even if they were in make-believe situations (i.e., “When I Was a Football,” a story told from a football’s point of view after being punted through the uprights to win the game). I could write about things that weren’t real. I could make creatures up and make them as beautiful or ugly or happy or sad or angry or scary as I wanted them to be. I didn’t know it then, but what I had discovered was catharsis, a way to purge strong emotions through creativity.
In my family, horror was also a bonding thing, along with straight science fiction like Star Trek. While my father indulged in the occasional good fright, horror was really my mother’s thing. She loved scary movies and TV shows about supernatural things, and her love of horror was second only to her love of a good mystery. Long after my sisters had moved out, she and I would watch repeats of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, a TV series about a reporter who investigates crimes that involve supernatural causes. Well into my own adult years, if any of the networks were showing horror when I came home to visit, she and I would watch them. One of my favorite memories of her involved a phone call not long before she died. We were talking and she said, “Trilogy of Terror is on.” We watched the whole thing together, her on Long Island, me in Virginia, both of us yelling at the stupid, stupid woman on the TV who tried to grab a knife blade with her fingertips when the doll tried to stab her from underneath the door.
There have been a number of studies and documentaries about why people are drawn to and love horror. For many, it’s a form of thrill-seeking, the same way people seek out fear when they get onto a rollercoaster or go bungee-jumping. For others, it’s a way of releasing tension or purging emotions. Yet for others it’s just fun: I was bummed when I learned that my ex-husband and another long-term boyfriend didn’t like horror. There’s something wonderful about huddling up on the couch with a guy and shrinking back into his arms as the next victim oh-so-foolishly goes out into the woods with a flashlight to see what the noise was. Also, I won’t lie: I like knowing a guy can not only experience fear, but express it with a good yelp at a jump-scare. Call it the flipside of toxic masculinity’s version of bravery. Stoicism is nice, but empathy is hot.
I do have my limits, however. I will not watch The Human Centipede. I’ve seen clips of it and it’s just plain too disgusting in concept. But other than something like that, I’m pretty much game for all of it because I know it’s not real.